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Boston Medical Library 
in the Francis A.Countway 
Library of Medicine - Boston 





A brief account of his Life, Condition and Experience: a Book 

from which every Man, Woman and Child in the Land 

may learn a Lesson of Patience, Cheerfulness 

and Self Reliance. 



Known as the "Ossified Man" 

;.i. W. T. SnaDp, the famous ossified man 
Lebanon, Ky,, is dead in Alberquerque, 
Is. M. While still & child Sapp's muscular 
tissues entirely wasted away and every 
joint in the bo<ly except those of the left 
toulder and of the hands became solidi- 
_ied. For thirty-six years the hapless 
statue of the man has *been on exhibi- 
tion. * ^q ~» 


(the ossified man). 

I was born Nov. the 10th, 1854, near the little town of 
Lebanon, Ky. My father, Cornelius Sapp, is the third son 
of Benjamin Sapp, who emigrated from Maryland and was 
one among the first settlers of Marion county, Ky. My 
mother is the eldest daughter of Reed Hayes, whose father 
was also one of the first settlers of the State, after whom the 
little town of Haytsville was named. My mother who is 
65 years of age, and my father who is 66 years of age, are 
healthy, ordinary-sized persons, and are the decendents of 
very hardy and long-lived ancestors. They have a family 
of five children ; one girl and four boys. I am the third 
one of these children, my sister and one brother being older 
than myself, and two brothers younger. My sister and 
brothers are averaged-sized persons and are all married and 
still reside in Kentucky. 

At my birth, and until about the seventh year of my age 
I was a remarkably hardy, robust and active boy, engaging 
with my brothers and playmates in all the sports and pas- 
times of childhood with as much vigor and sprightliness as 
any one of my age, giving every promise of reaching man- 
hood's estate a perfect sptcimen of physical strength and 
vigorous form. But alas ! like many other bright prospects 


and fond hopes we cherish, these promises were never to be 
realized. My young life beginning as bright and promising 
as a beautiful May morning, full of joy and hope, was soon 
to be overcast by the dark clouds of a sad misfortune, cast- 
ing a shadow over my future existence that blighted all 
these bright hopes and flattering prospects. 

As children, with that eagerness and bright anticipations, 
we look forward to the great future when we fancy we shall 
see all the dreams of our young minds realized. How we 
yearn to be men and women like papa and mama. With 
what innocent joy do we talk of the great achievements we 
shall accomplish and the noble things we shall do. How 
slowly the years seem to pass before this fancy picture of 
our future lives can be realized. But when the years have 
slowly rolled by and we have reached the long desired goal, 
how often, instead of the bright visions of our childish im- 
aginations, are we met by sad disappointment. The memo- 
ries of my own childhood days are the dearest memories of 
my life. They now seem like a happy dream. As I listen 
to the cheerful voices of little children so free from care, so 
full of joy, or as I see them skipping and bounding like the 
nimble squirrel on their way to school, or in their childish 
sports, I ask myself if it is possible my prospects were once 
as bright as theirs? As I look into their bright eyes and 
happy faces, where I see pictured only joy and hope, a feel- 
ing of sadness steals over me that carries me back from my 
unfortunate present to my happy past. Then I lived on in 
blissful ignorance of the great misfortune that was so soon 
to overtake me — well that it was so ; had the vail of the 
future been lifted, and I had seen, instead of the castles I 
was building the terrible fate that awaited me, my young 
heart, light as it was, could not have but grown sad, and 
those happy days of sunshine turned to gloom. 


At about this time I was attacked by a peculiar malady, 
the nature of which was so mysterious, but the result so 
marked, that at the end of three years from iti commence- 
ment, a complete transformotion had taken place. 

This transformation I will now try to describe : At about 
the age of 7, without any pain or apparent cause, the mus- 
cles began wasting away from the limbs and body. The 
waste was very slow, but so continual that it soon be- 
gan to tell. My parents becoming alarmed, called in our 
family physician, who treated me for quite a while, but 
being unable to arrest the strange decay of muscle that was 
taking place, they called in others noted for their medical 
skill and success in the art of healing, but as I was gradu- 
ally wasting away without any apparent cause, the general 
system remaining unaffected, and being seemingly in good 
health, they too, were at a loss to account for the mysteri- 
ous cause that seemed slowly, but surely, leading to a fatal 
termination. My peculiar condition attracted a great deal 
of attention at the time, and was published in quite a num- 
ber of the leading newspapers throughout the country, and 
created quite a stir among the medical fraternity. 

During the three years that I was being reduced to my 
present strange and unaccountable condition, I was visited 
and treated by a number of the best physicians, surgeons 
and medical experts of the country, but my case seemed an 
enigma to them all, being without a parallel in medical an- 

After the muscles had wasted away from the limbs and 
body until I was reduced to almost a shadow, another strange 
condition set in. Every joint in the entire body from head 
to foot, with the exception of those of the left shoulder and 
the fingers of each hand, began growing stiff or becoming 
solidified. This my physicians tried to check by frequently 


moving and working them, but despite every effort that 
could be made to prevent it, the joints gradually became so 
rigid that force could not move them without breaking the 
bones, and the limbs and body were left as solid and im- 
movable as a stone. Thus in three years from the begin- 
ning of this terrible and unknown malady, instead of the 
muscular, vigorous ann finely formed boy I was at seven, I 
had been reduced to a mere shadow of my former self, the 
muscles wasted until I was a complete skeleton, with the 
body and limbs as solid and immovable asif they had been 
carved from a block of marble. Strange as it may seem, 
during the time this great change was taking place in the 
body and limbs, the head and face were not affected, nor 
was the general health impaired in the slightest degree. It 
left all of the vital organs in a healthy and normal condi- 
tion, the organ of digestion, respiration and circulation 
being unimpaired. Although the muscles were completely 
wasted away and the joints were solidly united, making the 
body as solid and immovable as a statue carved from a 
block of granite, it left the general health apparently as 
good as it had been before this change, and so it has re- 
mained to the present time. 

Though my early childhood days gave promise of such a 
bright future for me, three short years had blighted those 
happy prospects and cast a gloom over my future life that 
was anything but cheerful, the contemplation of which re- 
quired the stoutest heart and the highest degree of moral 
courage, but which no power but the hand of Death could 
cast aside. Instead of a future life of physical strength 
and manly form, which has ever been the glory of man, 
gifted with self-locomotion and muscular power, able to 
take part as others do, in all the athletic exercises and feats 
of strength which are so conducive to both health and hap- 


piness, I was imprisoned as it were, in my own body, now as 
solid as marble, there to remain as long as life should en- 
dure. Though feeling as well as any one living, every or- 
gan of the body performing its natural functions with as 
much regularity as in the strongest and most robust person, 
with all the vital parts of the system unaffected, I was ut- 
terly unable to move of my own will and volition, with the 
exception of the left shoulder and fingers, as though I was 
a statue chiseled from marble. Though living, breathing, 
speaking, and thinking, these functions were performed in 
a body that to all intents and purposes was absolutely dead. 
The right side being the only position I could occupy with 
comfort, I was compelled to assume that position, there to 
remain confined in my bodily prison until liberated by the 
cold hand of death, as helpless and dependent on others as 
the babe that sleeps on a fond and loving mother's breast is 
dependent on her for every want and care. For thirty long 
and weary years I have thus lain on the one side, never 
changing position, never moving ; not so much as lifting 
the head from my pillow. For thirty long and tedious years, 
helpless as an infant I have been compelled to look out of 
my bodily prison on a grand and beautiful world, where so 
many beauties are spread for the enjoyment of mankind, 
where others are permitted to roam at will, realizing in its 
highest degree the blessings of an earthly existence. But 
the hand of Fate withholds many of these blessings from 
me. What so many others possess and so lightly appreciate, 
to me seems a blessing for which we can never be too thank- 
ful. What would the deaf give to hear? The dumb to 
speak ? or the blind to see ? What would (he helpless givt 
for strength and activity ? Yet how little gratitude many 
possessing all these bletsings show for their possession. 
Though deprived of strength and activity, confined in a 


body that is as useless to me, so for as motion is concerned, 
as if moulded from clay, I must patiently and perseveringly 
make my way through life as best I can, expecting to be 
released only when I pass from this body into the great be- 
yond. Yet I do not complain. My lot has been cast by the 
Almighty, and I am glad that I have courage enough to ac- 
cept it and make the best of it. Fate has indeed smitten 
me with a heavy hand — a hand that would perhaps have 
crushed the spirit in many, but I should be ashamed to 
think courage would allow me to shrink from its blows. 
The body has been vanquished, but the spirit stands defiant; 
physical strength has been conquered, but hope and cour- 
age have not deserted me, and with these as my companions, 
I will cheerfully follow the rough pathway through life that 
has been marked out for me by the Kuler of our destinies. 

I have been left in possession of all the senses and mental 
powers through which our pleasures are received, so that I 
am by no means entirely cutoff from the enjoyments of life. 
My unfortunate condition prohibits me from engaging in 
many pleasures indulged in by others, but fortunately has 
left me capable of taking in and enjoying those that are the 
most lasting and give us the keenest delight. My enjoy- 
ments are more limited in number, but just as intense in 
degree. I cannot enter so many paths of pleasure, but those 
that are left open to me are filled with just as many delights. 
I cannot exhaust myself in the whir] of the dizzy waltz, but 
the strains of the music fills my ears with its melody. I can- 
not wander into the gardens and fields and gather the beau- 
tiful flowers, but they are no less charming nor their fra- 
grance less sweet. I cannot climb to the dizzy heights of 
the mountain's peak, nor stand erect on the brink of Niaga- 
ra, but the eyes take in their grandeur and t/eauties, filling 
the soul with just as much delight. Though the body has 


been reduced to a physical wreck the mind has remained 
bright and clear. While the limbs are not any larger than 
those of a child, the head is that of a fully developed man, 
having grown to normal size and being well formed. Being 
only seven years old when the decay began, I had gone to 
school only a short time and was not very much advanced 
in an education, but was considered an apt scholar and had 
a great desire to learn, and notwithstanding I was being 
daily reduced by the strange affliction, I did not lose inter- 
est in my studies, and with the assistance of private in- 
structors and my own perseverance, I received quite a good 
English education. In my studies I had a preference for 
Language, Geography and History. 

This fondness for learning in childhood has grown stronger 
with each year of my age, and nothing now gives me so much 
pleasure as access to a well-filled library. My favorite read- 
ing is works on history, biography, travel, and poetry. My 
desire for information is so great that there is no bodily sac- 
rifice that I would not cheerfully make in order to gratify 
it. Notwithstanding my helpless condition, I, perhaps, en- 
joy life as well as many others more fortunate than myself. 
I take as much interest in the ordinary affairs of life as 
most men, having the same ambitions, aspirations and de- 
sires as others, with an aim in life for which I work as hard 
to attain and which I look forward to with as much interest 
and earnestness as ordinary persons. I am as deeply inter- 
ested in social, political, religious and financial affairs as 
those who are differently situated. On all these subjects, 
as well as others pertaing to the welfare and happiness of 
the human family, I have always endeavored to gain correct 
ideas and form unbiased opinions for which my strange 
condition gives me peculiar advantages. 

Having been raised by a good mother, I was at an early 


age taught the principles of Christianity, and the duties we 
owe our Creator, our fellow-man, and ourselves, and al- 
though I have never been a member of any religious denom- 
ination, I have the highest respect for religion and the 
greatest admiration for moral principles. I have a deep 
sense of the obligations we are under to our Creator and our 
fellow-man. To our Creator we are never thankful enough 
for the blessings granted us. 

Though He has denied me so much that He has bestow- 
ed on others, He has granted me blessings of priceless value, 
which I highly appreciate. He has left me in possession of 
all five senses through which so much of our pleasure is de- 
rived. Through the sense of sight I am enabled to gratify 
my thirst for knowledge, by reading, enlightening the mind 
with the thoughts, sentiments and songs of the best authors, 
historians and poets of the present as well as past ages. 
Through this sense I can enjoy the beauties of a grand and 
lovely world, the grandeur of which fills the mind with its 
indescribable charms. As I gaze on the beautiful landscape, 
the star-lit heavens, the towering mountain, or the mighty 
cateract, the soul is filled with emotions of keenest delight. 
As I look on the beautiful painting, study the beauties of 
the sculptor's art, or admire the grand structure of archi- 
tecture, the mind is filled with pleasures that are sur- 
passed only by the kind and genial expression that beams 
from the eyes of dear friends, or by the smile that plays on 
the faces of those I love. The sparkle of the dew drops, as 
they glitter like so many diamonds In the rays of the morn- 
ing sun, the lovely flowers that fill the air with their fra- 
grance and charm the eye with their beauties, the twinkling 
stars that light up the clear blue sky with so much glory, 
and the soft rays of the beautiful moon, throwing a quiet 
beauty over hill and valley, all excite in my mind a feeling 


of delight that words cannot describe and only a true lover 
of nature appreciates. 

Through the sense of hearing I can enjoy the soothing 
strains of music, both of nature and art. The clear, sweet 
strains of the harp or guitar fill my soul with rapture, 
equalled only by the lovely songs of the birds, the soft coo- 
ing of the dove, or the sweet tones of the human voice, 
speaking words of kindness. The deep tones of the organ, 
the clear notes of the flute, and the soul-stirring melody of 
the violin fill me with a joy no less intense than the sweet 
music of nature that strikes the ear when I listen to the 
soft whisperings of the wind among the trees, the gentle 
ripple of the brook over its rocky bed, or the sweet voices 
and merry sougs of dear little children. 

Though the limbs and body are as unbending and rigid 
as irou, the sense of touch is very acute on any portion of 
the body or limbs, and through this sense the flower-scented 
breeze of May, the balmy winds of summer, or the inviting 
shade of the grove, are as refreshing to me as to others more 
fortunate. The body has been reduced from a large, vigor- 
ous and promising boy, weighing about sixty-five pounds 
when seven years old, to a mere pigmy in form, solid as a 
rock, weighing at present only forty pounds. 

But despite all this decay, one favor has been granted me, 
the fingers of both hands, and the left shoulder have re- 
mained movable, and with the aid of the shoulder and the 
fingers of the hand, I am enable to do my own writing, feed 
myself, hold a book or a paper — a boon to me that is beyond 
price. My parents, brothers and sisters were exceedingly 
mortified over my great misfortune, and made every effort 
to make me comfortable in my sad condition and to lighten 
the affliction they knew I must endure through life. They 
treated me with the utmost kindness, being ever ready to 


gratify my slightest wishes. My dear mother was never too 
tired, nor too sleepy to minister to my wants, nor was there 
any sacrifice she would not cheerfully make for my comfort. 
Though they were kind to me and made it as pleasant for 
me as they could, I could not subdue the spirit of inde- 
pendence that has always been a marked trait of my char- 
acter, aud the thought of perhaps a long life of dependence 
on others for my bread and butter was one that gave me no 
little anxiety. But what was I to do ? Though proud in 
spirit I was helpless as a babe in a cold and selfish world. 
For their kindness and care I felt the deepest gratitude, but 
the sting of dependence became only the sharper as days 
wore themselves into weeks, weeks in no months, and months 
into weary years. My keenest desire was to relieve them of 
the care with which I felt I was taxing them. As increas- 
ing years of age developed the aspirations and ambitions 
that were so deeply implanted in my nature, words cannot 
express my feeling of helplessness, when I reached the verge 
of manhood's estate where so many grand opportunities are 
offered which when embraced, lead to honor, independence 
and happiness. The opportunities that were so invitingly 
held out to others were withheld from me. The opportuni- 
ties that could be so easily embraced by others, to me were 
impossibilities. The pursuits of life which offered such 
bright prospects to others I could never expect to enter. It 
was like perishing of hunger, surrouuded by the richest 
and most nourishing food, or dying of thirst, with the cool 
and sparkling water flowing at the feet. The soul was fill- 
ed with ambition, but was held captive by the body in which 
it had made its abode. The mind was imprisoned within 
the walls of its own home, but courage fought away despair, 
and it looked out on the grand possibilities of human life 
with a zeal that adversity was unable to conquer. I w T as help- 


less, but possessed of a strong will power. I did not yield 
to despondency, but determined to make my way through 
life as best I could. There was no pursuit of life that wa» 
open to me. For manual labor I lacked physical strength, 
for business I needed capital, and for authorship I must 
have a classical education. My condition was like that of 
a ship without a pilot on the mighty ocean. My peculiar 
physical condition had made me one of the greatest living 
wonders of which there was any record, and of course ex- 
cited the interest and curiosity of all who saw or heard of 
me, and I was solicited by many to place myself on public 
exhibition. I was by nature somewhat modest and retiring 
in disposition and being very sensitive in regard to my mis- 
fortune, I at first shrank from the thought of going before 
the public gaze. But ambition finally overcame my scru- 
ples, and in order to break the monotony that was slowly 
wearing away the years, and to free myself from a life of 
dependence on others, which was stinging my pride to the 
very quick, I determined to follow the only path that was 
left open to me through which I might make my own sup- 
port. But when my friends and relatives learned that I had 
intentions of this kind, it called forth their loudest pro- 
tests and their bitter opposition. The idea to them seemed 
preposterous. For one so utterly helpless and dependent as 
myself to leave home, friends and relatives and go forth in- 
to a cold and unfriendly world to fight the battle of life ; 
alone in strange cities and among strange people, seemed 
to them an idea verging on lunacy. They pointed out to 
me the dangers I would meet, the hardships I must under- 
go, and the risk I would incur by pursuing such a course ; 
all of which I realized and was prepared to face. But when 
the beseechiag words, the earnest prayers, and the gentle 
warning of a kind and loving mother, whose eyes filled with 

14 LIFE OF \V. T. SAPP, 

tears and whose heart seemed wrung with pain at the 
thought, was brought to bear, I shrank back overcome by 
a power which nothing else could wield— a mother s influ- 
ence. By this power I was firmly held while the hand of 
time slowly marked off the days, the weeks and the months 
of many long years, during which there was a struggle going 
on in my soul that the flight of time seemed unable to de- 
cide—a struggle between a mother's love and ambition. A 
mother's love bade me remain where it could watch over me 
in my helpless lot and be a guardian angel to guide me 
through the rough pathwavs of life, ministering to my wants 
with a tenderness prompted only by a gentle woman s love. 
Ambition, though unable to lead me into the great highway 
through which others were passing to success, urged me 
with a force that seemed irresistible, to follow the one path 
left open to me— a path in which there was a gleam of hope. 
For years the struggle thus went on. The wishes of a 
mother weie indeed hard to overcome, but the spirit ot am- 
bition laihed the soul with unrest and I was compelled to 
seek the counsel of reason in regard to the course I should 

^Reason taught me that a mother's wishes should not be 
lightly considered, but it also pointed out to me the stem 
realities of life. It told me that the mother an d father that 
now watched over my welfare might be called away by the 
merciless hand of Death. It pointed out to me the duty 
we are under to our frit nds and to ourselves to grasp the 
opportunities that are offered us to make our own way and 
to bear our own burdens through life, instead of neglecting 
the opportunities and casting ourselves a bnrden on tne 
hands of others. It taught me that to remain a charge on 
willing friends when there was a way left open to free them 
from it, showed a «pirit of meanness as well as ingratitude; 


and despite my own sensitiveness, the opposition of friends 
and the influence of a dear mother, ambition, guided by 
reason, gained the mastery, and 1 resolved to overcome the 
many difficulties that lay in my way and follow the only 
course that was left to free me from dependence — go on 
public exhibition. 

In the summer of 1884 I applied to the manager of Kei- 
ler's Dime Museum, in Kansas City, Mo., for an engagement 
and secured it. After filling my engagement there I went 
to Chicago, and since that time I have been almost continu- 
ously on exhibition, having within the past ten years visited 
most of the priucipal cities of the United States and Cana- 
da, and satisfactorily filled engagements in all the leading 
museums of the country. I have made several tours of the 
country with circuses and been visited during the ten years 
by perhaps two million people, who were filled with wonder 
and amazement at my strange and almost incredible condi- 
tion. Exposed to the constant dangers and hardships of 
travel, fortune has so far kept me unharmed, and to her fa- 
vor I trust for my future safety. Although I wander 
through the world alone, among strange people and sur- 
rounded by strange scenes, the love of home and recollection 
of its friends have not faded from my memory. Time will 
fail to blot from my memory the careworn face of a kind 
old mother, as she touched my cheek with a last holy kiss 
of motherly love, and whose parting words were a prayer 
for my welfare. Well do I remember her as she looked af- 
ter me until I had passed from her view, going helpless as 
I was, into a strange world from which she might never see 
me return. The tottering gait, the trembling hand and the 
silvery locks of my aged father, whose eyes filled with tears 
as he shook my hand, are treasured deep in my mind. In 
my childhood they had hoped to see me enter life's battle 


gifted with vigorous form and manly strength, but they 
must see me enter the great struggles helpless as a babe. 
This parting rilled me with emotions that cannot be de- 
scribed, but armed with a strong will power and courage, I 
determined to do the best I could, and though, with the aid 
of only the fingers and one shoulder, I have thus far suc- 
ceeded in making my own way through a world, where so 
many blessed with health and strength sink down discour- 
aged or waste their strength in cowardly complaint. In or- 
der to make my own way I have left parents and home, 
wandering alone through a selfish world, and may die among 
strangers in a strange land, without the tender hand of a 
loving woman to smooth my dying pillow or plant one sweet 
flower on my grave to cheer the lonely spot while I sleep 
the calm sweet sleep of death. But, if I can, as I pass 
through the weild in my unfortunate condition, be the 
means of teaching others, more fortunate than myself, the 
lesson of patience and gratefulness, I shall feel that the de- 
sign of an allwise Creator has been accomplished and that 
my mission in life will not have been in vain, and I shall 
die content. 

W. T. SAPP. 

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